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GENERAL RECEPTION OF THE CONSTITUTION. HOPES OF A REUNION WITH GREAT BRITAIN. ACTION OF THE CONGRESS. STATE OF FEELING IN MASSACHUSETTS, NEW YORK, VIRGINIA, SOUTH CAROLINA, MARYLAND, AND NEW HAMPSHIRE. APPOINTMENT OF THEIR CONVENTIONS.
THE national Convention was dissolved on the 14th of September. The state of expectation and anxiety throughout the country during its deliberations, and at the moment of its adjournment, will appear from a few leading facts and ideas, which illustrate the condition of the popular mind when the Constitution made its appearance.
The secrecy with which the proceedings of the Convention had been conducted, the nature of its business, and the great eminence and personal influence of its principal members, had combined to create the deepest solicitude in the public mind in all the chief centres of population and intelligence throughout the Union. An assembly of many of the wisest and most distinguished men in America had been engaged for four months in preparing for the United States a new form of government, and the public
had acquired no definite knowledge of their transactions, and no information respecting the nature of the system they were likely to propose. Under these circumstances, we may expect to find the most singular rumors prevailing during the session of the Convention, and a great excitement in the public mind in many localities, when the result was announced. Among the reports that were more or less believed through the latter part of the summer, was the idle one that the Convention were framing a system of monarchical government, and that the Bishop of Osnaburg was to be sent for, to be the sovereign of the new kingdom.
Foolish as it may appear to us, this story occasioned some real alarm in its day. It is to be traced to a favorite idea of that class of Americans who had either been avowed "Tories" during the Revolution, or had secretly felt a greater sympathy with the mother country than with the land of their birth, and who were at this period generally called "Loyalists." Some of these persons had taken no part, on either side, during the Revolutionary war, and had abstained from active participation in public affairs since the peace. They were all of that class of minds whose tendencies led them to the belief that the materials for a safe and efficient republican government were not to be found in these States, and that the public disorders could be corrected only by a government of a very different character. Their feelings and opinions carried them towards a reconciliation with England, and their grand scheme for this
purpose was to invite hither the titular Bishop of Osnaburg.1
Their numbers were not large in any of the States; but the feeling of insecurity and the dread of impending anarchy were shared by others who had no particular inclination towards England; and it is not
1 It may be amusing to Americans of this and future generations to know who this personage was for whom it was rumored that the Loyalists desired to "send," and whose advent as a possible ruler of this country was a vague apprehension in the popular mind for a good while, and finally came to be imputed as a project to the framers of the Constitution. The Bishop of Osnaburg was no other than the late Duke of York, Frederick, the second son of King George III.; a prince whose conduct as commander-in-chief of the army, in consequence of the sale of commissions by his mistress, one Mrs. Clarke, became in 1809 a subject of inquiry, leading to the most scandalous revelations, before the House of Commons. The Duke was born in 1763, and was consequently, at the period spoken of in the text, at the ripe age of twenty-four. When about a year old (1764), he was chosen Bishop of Osnaburg. This was a German province (Osnabrück), formerly a bishopric of great antiquity, founded by Charlemagne. At the Reformation most of the inhabitants became Lutherans, and by the Treaty of Westphalia it was agreed that it should be
governed alternately by a Roman Catholic and a Protestant Bishop. In 1802 it was secularized, and assigned as an hereditary principality to George III., in his capacity of King of Hanover. Prince Frederick continued to be called by the title of Bishop of Osnaburg, until he was created Duke of York. I am not aware that the whispers of his name in the secret counsels of our Loyalists, as a proposed king for America, became known in England. Whether such knowledge would have excited a smile, or have awakened serious hopes, is a question on which the reader can speculate. But it is certain that there were persons in this country, and in the neighboring British Provinces, who had long hoped for a reunion of the American States with the parent country, through this or some other "mad project." Colonel Humphreys, (who had been one of Washington's aides,) writing to Hamilton, from New Haven, under date of September 16, 1787, says: "The quondam Tories have undoubtedly conceived hopes of a future union with Great Britain, from the inefficacy of our government, and the tumults which prevailed during the last winter. I saw
to be doubted that the Constitution, among the other mischiefs which it averted, saved the country from a desperate attempt to introduce a form of government which must have been crushed beneath commotions that would have made all government, for a long time at least, impracticable. The public anxiety, created by the reports in circulation, had reached such a point
a letter, written at that period, by a clergyman of considerable reputation in Nova Scotia, to a person of eminence in this State, stating the impossibility of our being happy under our present constitution, and proposing (now we could think and argue calmly on all the consequences), that the efforts of the moderate, the virtuous, and the brave should be exerted to effect a reunion with the parent state. ..... It seems, by a conversation I have had here, that the ultimate practicability of introducing the Bishop of Osnaburg is not a novel idea among those who were formerly termed Loyalists. Ever since the peace it has been occasionally talked of and wished for. Yesterday, where I dined, half jest, half earnest, he was given as the first toast. I leave you now, my dear friend, to reflect how ripe we are for the most mad and ruinous project that can be suggested, especially when, in addition to this view, we take into consideration how thoroughly the patriotic part of the community, the friends of an efficient government, are discour aged with the present system, and irritated at the popular demagogues
who are determined to keep themselves in office, at the risk of everything. Thence apprehensions are formed, that, though the measures proposed by the Convention may not be equal to the wishes of the most enlightened and virtuous, yet that they will be too high-toned to be adopted by our popular assemblies. Should that happen, our political ship will be left afloat on a sea of chance, without a rudder as well as without a pilot." (Works of Hamilton, I. 443.) In a grave and comprehensive private memorandum, drawn up by Hamilton soon after the Constitution appeared, in which he summed up the probabilities for and against its adoption, and the consequences of its rejection, the following occurs, as among the events likely to follow such rejection: "A reunion with Great Britain, from universal disgust at a state of commotion, is not impossible, though not much to be feared. The most plausible shape of such a business would be, the establishment of a son of the present monarch in the supreme government of this country, with a family compact." (Works, II. 419, 421.)
in the month of August, when it was rumored that the Convention had recently given a higher tone to the system they were preparing,― that members found it necessary to answer numerous letters of inquiry from persons who had become honestly alarmed. "Though we cannot affirmatively tell you," was their answer, "what we are doing, we can negatively tell you what we are not doing:-we never once thought of a king."1
All doubt and uncertainty were dispelled, however, by the publication of the Constitution in the newspapers of Philadelphia, on the 19th of September. It was at once copied into the principal journals of all the States, and was perhaps as much read by the people at large as any document could have been in the condition of the means of public intelligence which a very imperfect post-office department then afforded. It met everywhere with warm friends and warm opponents; its friends and its opponents being composed of various classes of men, found, in different proportions, in almost all of the States. Those who became its advocates were, first, a large body of men, who recognized, or thought they recognized, in it the admirable system which it in fact proved to be when put into operation; secondly, those who, like most of the statesmen who made it, believed it to be the best attainable government that could be adopted by the people of the United States, overlooking defects which they acknowledged, or trusting to the power of amendment which it contained; and, thirdly, the 1 Pennsylvania Journal, August 22, 1787.